Sarah Cwiek

Sarah Cwiek - Detroit Reporter/Producer

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

Ways to Connect

A repeatedly sewage-flooded basement on Detroit's east side.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Two recent cases of Hepatitis A in Detroit are sparking a larger public health response.

That’s because the people who tested positive for the virus had both recently dealt with basement sewage backups, which have plagued an area of Detroit’s east side during rainfall this summer.

It’s not entirely clear how they got Hepatitis A, but contact with sewage is a known path of transmission.

But just in case, the Detroit health department will offer the vaccinations for free or at low cost to all Detroiters affected by the recent flooding over the next week.

user frank juarez / Flickr

The state board of education wants more input on the fates of Michigan schools deemed “failing.”

That’s what some board members signaled in a statement released this week.

It called on the State School Reform/Redesign Office to work with the Michigan Department of Education “to provide assistance to local districts to succeed at turning around their own schools and to keep the public fully informed of decisions affecting their local schools.”

stevendepolo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The architect of a bribery-and-kickback scheme in the Detroit Public Schools deserves to spend almost six years behind bars, at the least.

Or, he’s a “compassionate” and “devoted” person who, “despite his greed-filled actions in latter years, was an honest, upright businessman for the bulk of his career,” and merits leniency.

Those are dueling descriptions of Norman Shy found in sentencing memorandums from both federal prosecutors and Shy’s lawyer.

Durene Brown's basement has now flooded several times. She has yet to hear back about a claim filed in May.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is about to process an “unprecedented” number of claims, although it’s uncertain what claimants can expect to get out of the process.

It’s the result of a July 8 rainstorm that caused sewage to back up into basements across a swath of Detroit’s east side. A similar, smaller event happened in the same area just last week.

DWSD has urged affected residents to file claims, and many have.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

A program meant to help struggling Detroiters pay their water bills is accepting more applicants now.

There had been some confusion about how much money was in the pot for the Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP).

The Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, which runs the WRAP for the Great Lakes Water Authority, said just this week that it wasn’t accepting new clients because it had already committed all its funding for the year.

Volunteers working in Detroit.
user Charlie Wollborg / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Detroit is one of three U.S. cities getting what’s called a “Chief Service Officer.”

It’s part of an initiative led by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s non-profit, Cities of Service.

The goal is to “help improve citizen engagement,” according to a city press release.

Detroit’s new Chief Service Officer, Victoria Kovari, formerly headed up Mayor Mike Duggan’s Department of Neighborhoods.

MDOT / via Twitter

Major stretches of highway throughout Metro Detroit were flooded out Tuesday morning, after heavy rainfall Monday night.

That’s likely a “new normal” people will just have to deal with going forward.

Members of the so-called "Homrich 9" before their initial trial.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Why has a criminal misdemeanor case involving seven Detroit protesters been stalled for nearly nine months?

Those defendants and their lawyers want to know, and in a letter sent to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway, they petition him to resolve the case “promptly.”

The defendants, part of the self-proclaimed “Homrich 9,” had briefly blocked contractors’ trucks tasked with shutting off water to Detroit homes.

A Detroit water shutoff notice
Ali Elisabeth / Michigan Radio

Detroiters looking for help with their water bills are hitting some barriers, as a new aid program tries to get a handle on its funding situation, and navigate confusion between the different agencies involved.

The Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP) just launched in March. It was touted as a comprehensive solution to Detroit’s chronic problem with delinquent water bills, and the subsequent service shutoffs that have hit tens of thousands of households over the past three years.

A map shows the link between water debt and property tax foreclosures in Detroit.
We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective

New citizen-led research is drawing a link between two of Detroit’s biggest social crises: water service shutoffs, and property tax foreclosures.

The We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective gathered that data for its report “Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit.”

Detroit’s aggressive and controversial water shutoff policy for delinquent households was ramped up during the city’s bankruptcy, and has continued with some modifications since then.

EAA chancellor Veronica Conforme.
via Education Achievement Authority

Does the Education Achievement Authority still owe the Detroit Public Schools about $12 million?

The two districts seem to have distinctly different ideas about that, in what’s become a very odd dispute between the two state-run school districts.

And for now at least, it seems the state is unwilling to step in and help resolve the dispute.

The EAA took over fifteen former DPS schools when it launched as an attempt at a stateside turnaround school district in 2012.

Hillary Clinton addressed the 2016 SEIU international convention in Detroit this May.
SEIU / via Twitter

Hillary Clinton will pitch her economic plan in Macomb County Thursday.

Clinton will speak at Futuramic Tool & Engineering, a Warren auto parts supplier that’s branched out into defense and aerospace.

It comes just days after Donald Trump shared his economic vision with the Detroit Economic Club.

It will be a very different crowd. In Warren, Clinton will try to win over some of Macomb County’s famed Reagan Democrats — white, blue-collar voters.

flickr user Gage Skidmore / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Donald Trump is set to give what’s been billed as a “major economic policy speech” to the Detroit Economic Club today.

He’ll try to score points with a business-friendly audience that might be uncomfortable with some of his rhetoric, and his positions on issues like trade.

stevendepolo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Detroit Public Schools debt has been downgraded again — this time, into junk territory.

The credit rating agency S&P Global lowered its rating on two sets of bonds, issued in 2011 and 2012. DPS still owes more than $200 million on them.

S&P says its concerns stems from district’s recent restructuring.

To avoid a potential bankruptcy, the state split DPS in two — with the “old co” existing only to re-pay historic debts with local tax revenues.

Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan

It took some doing, but metro Detroit voters will get a chance to vote on funding an ambitious mass transit plan in November.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority board approved a 20-year, $3 billion millage proposal on Thursday.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a Detroit rally promoting police-community ties.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Department of Justice is “ready to work” with Detroit and other cities to help ease tensions between police and many communities.

That was U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s message over the past two days in Detroit.

Lynch first spoke at a rally outside a Detroit police precinct for the National Night Out Tuesday. That annual event promotes improved police-community relations.

Lynch admits the country “has had some challenging times” with that lately, as high-profile violence has “frayed trust” between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Detroit Congressman John Conyers.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

It appears John Conyers will return to Congress for the 27th time.

The Detroit Democrat is the longest-serving member of Congress. A civil rights icon known for championing traditional progressive causes, he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964.

Despite growing calls for Conyers to step aside for a younger successor, the 87-year-old says he’s just not thinking about that.

“I go on because I still like it. I’m able to help so many people, that it keeps me going,” he said.

a police squad car
Flickr user Scott Davidson/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Residents of Wayne, a small community about 25 miles west of Detroit, will see a public safety millage question on their Tuesday primary ballots.

It’s a slightly unusual one, though.

The question will ask Wayne residents whether they want to join a regional authority that funds public safety services — the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority, or SMORSA.

Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

A millage proposal to fund major transit improvements in Metro Detroit isn’t dead yet—but it’s very close.

That’s because the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority couldn’t muster the votes to put the measure on the November ballot Thursday.

The millage would have raised about $3 billion (estimates vary) over 20 years. It would have helped fund a $4.6 billion master plan to upgrade Metro Detroit’s lackluster, fragmented transit systems.

But the board couldn’t put together enough votes, because of opposition from Oakland and Macomb county leaders.

A map outlining the proposed transit master plan for Metro Detroit.
Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan

Last week, Southeast Michigan's Regional Transit Authority postponed a vote deciding whether to put a millage to fund an ambitious transit master plan on the November ballot.

The delay came as the leaders of Oakland and Macomb counties--and their representatives on the RTA board--outlined a number of objections to the plan, and said they can't support it in its current form. 

Derek Key / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is warning against the possible release of some convicted teenage killers, saying it could spark an “unparalleled deadly crime spree.”

The US Supreme Court has ordered states to re-sentence all people sent to prison for mandatory life without parole as juveniles, saying that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Leaders of Detroit's Black LGBT community at the Hotter than July kickoff.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

It’s time for Hotter than July, Detroit’s annual week of celebration and remembrance for the black LGBT community.

This year’s events kicked off Tuesday evening at Detroit’s Palmer Park, with a vigil for community members who faced violence, diseases like HIV-AIDS, discrimination and oppression.

Organizers say the week of events often feels like “a big family reunion.”

But it also has its somber moments, like when attendees honored those who have passed away near a spruce tree dedicated in their honor.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Highland Park leaders postponed an announcement Tuesday about the city’s troubled water system, citing progress in talks with Governor Snyder’s office.

Highland Park’s water troubles go back at least to 2012. That’s when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ordered it to shut down its water treatment plant for repairs.

But the plant stayed shut down. That was followed by botched billing collection, spiking water bills, and water quality issues.

Matt Picio / Flickr

An ambitious plan to expand and upgrade regional transit in Metro Detroit might stall out because two key regional players aren’t on board.

Those two key players are Oakland and Macomb counties.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority wants to put a millage on the November ballot, that would raise about $3 billion (estimates vary) over 20 years to fund its proposed transit master plan.

The RTA board was supposed to approve the ballot measure this week, but ended up postponing the vote at the last minute.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Fewer than half of Michigan’s local leaders are optimistic about the state’s direction, and more of those leaders have soured on Governor Snyder’s leadership.

That’s according to the latest results from a twice-yearly University of Michigan survey.

The feelings about the state’s overall direction are just slightly more pessimistic than a year ago, but down significantly from 2014, when 55% of local leaders felt good about the state’s prospects. Now, it’s 44%.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit program focused on boosting small business in the city’s neighborhoods has a year under its belt.

The Motor City Match program has awarded $2 million in grants so far. It awarded another $500,000 to 11 new or expanding ventures on Wednesday.

They include food and restaurant businesses, two child care centers, a beauty supply store, and a music center.

Michigan school boards are struggling to fill seats.
wikimedia user motown31 / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A former school supplies vendor who admitted defrauding the Detroit Public Schools will see his major assets seized by the federal government.

Norman Shy pleaded guilty to running a bribery and kickback scheme that defrauded the district of nearly $2.8 million, paying off principals and a district administrator with money he received for school supplies that were never delivered.

Shy’s plea agreement spelled out assets the government could seize to repay that.

A demolition in Detroit.
City of Detroit / via Facebook

Detroit’s sweeping campaign against blight under Mayor Mike Duggan marked a big milestone Tuesday, as the city demolished its 10,000th home in two-and-a-half years.

Duggan has dramatically sped up the pace and scale of demolitions, saying the city and its residents can’t afford to delay tackling neighborhood blight any longer.

Duggan says every time a blighted home goes down, it raises the quality of life for residents of that neighborhood.

Allen Academy is unimstakably a former Catholic church.
Allen Academy / via Facebook

How do you decide if a so-called “failing” school should shut down, and is there a right way to do it?

Three Detroit charter schools shut their doors forever at the end of this school year.

One of them, Allen Academy, was one of the city’s very first charters. And its closure leaves a wake of upheaval.

"The kids are going to be better off"

The ornate, red-brick complex on Detroit’s west side is unmistakably an old Catholic church.

The Saint Theresa of Avila parish closed in the 1980s. Since 1999, it’s been Allen Academy.

Detroit Firefighters
City of Detroit Fire Department / Facebook.com

Most Detroit firefighters should get a pay bump as soon as next month,

Under a tentative deal struck by Mayor Mike Duggan and the fire union, firefighters who cross-train as medical first responders will get the 4% raise.

The city says that 26 of the fire department’s 46 companies are currently doing medical runs, and that’s helped bring average EMS response times down to around 8 minutes. That's in line with the national average.

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